December, 1974

Once 'upon a time there lived a man called Jesus. People say that his father was a carpenter named Joseph and that his mother was named Mary. People also say that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea and that at his birth a star came and stood over the manger day and night, and also that three kings or wise men came from the East bringing gifts to him at his birth. It is also reported that Joseph moved his family to a town called Nazareth, so that when Jesus grew up he was called Jesus of Nazareth. However, history and geography know of no town at that time and in that area called Nazareth, and while it has been calculated that within a few years of the reported date of the birth of Jesus there was a close conjunction of three planets it is hardly possible that such a stellium could have "stood" in one place while the rest of the sky rotated; and lacking any independent confirmation of the identity of the three kings from the East we must pass over all these reports as purely legendary.

It is also said that Joseph was descended from David the second and most famous of the kings of Judah and Israel. But the records (Luke and Matthew) do not agree on the genealogy reaching back to King David, although both agree that Jesus was descended from him through Joseph his father. Furthermore, the later reports of Jesus' career indicate that neither the followers of Jesus nor the people of Judea had any knowledge of this lineage, since it is not referred to in a single statement by anyone in any of the four Gospels nor in any of the rest of the New Testament. Again, we must regard this also as a legendary report, intended to make Jesus in the line of the rulers of Israel.

Nothing is known of the childhood and youth of Jesus. Luke alone reports that when Jesus was twelve years old he was found arguing with the teachers in the temple; but this probably only means that Jesus was precociously interested in matters of philosophy and ethics and religion. But there is little reason to suppose that Jesus received any special education, coming as he did from a working class family; he was probably taught the history of the Jewish people and something of the Law and the Prophets, but no more than any Hebrew child received at that time. Nevertheless, his familiarity with the Old Testament makes it likely that he had studied them closely during his growth.

It is possible to speculate on the character of Joseph of which history records nothing. Was he perhaps versed in Jewish history and teachings, and did he pass them on to Jesus? Was he a kindly and nurturant father providing the model which Jesus used later when he pictured God as a loving Father? Since it is reported in all the Gospels that Jesus had brothers and sisters we may wonder what their home life was like; was it happy and co-operative, and could that have provided the basis for Jesus' conception of all people as brethren? We do not know; but these all seem probable because of the models Jesus used later in his teaching.

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)